George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Peter Gansevoort, 18 August 1778

From Colonel Peter Gansevoort

[Fort Schuyler, N.Y., 18 August 1778]1

I have the unhappiness to inform your Excellency that desertion has lattely been very frequent from this Garrison—since the 26t of last March we have had 3 Serjts 2 Corpls & 20 Privates desert from this Battn besides 1 bumdr 1 Gunr & 1 Matrs from the Arttillery before the date above mentioned several soldiers had been tryed by a General Court Martial at this Garrison, for de[se]rtion, but never recieved the Punishment due their Crimes, the Sentences of these different Court Martials were carefully sent to Commanding General of this Department but no returns have been ever recievd some time in June last Colonel Varick informd me a Recruit who had just joined our Battn was susspected of being a Confederate with Major Hammill. I orderd his Conduct to be narrowly inspected—he was detected in the fact of Corrupting & enticing the Soldiers to desert upon being apprehended, he confessed that he came upon such desings, & was sent by Lord Aid du Camp to Genl Sir Harry Clinton as a spy to endeavour to enlist what Irish men he could from the American Army2—there was every Appearance of his being a spy. he was immediately tryed by a General Court Martial the sentence was directly sent down for Approbation, but no Answer has been recieved—& the Man Still lays confined in Irons—finding the Spirit of desertion to increase, & the Men in General to be exceeding uneasy—probably arising from their being so long stationed on this Frontier Post—they have been frequently heard in thier private Conversations to say—that they woul’d sooner die, tha[n]3 stay here the ensuing winter, My Officers as well as myself was Convinced that—unless some Example was made, we shoul’d not be able to check this growing Evil—A party of five Men deserted on the 10 of August. they were taken by the Tuscarora Indians, on their way to Canada fifty Miles from this Fort—they were brought in on the 13th—a General Court Martial was convened on the 15th—they were sentenced—to die, the Officers in a body, desired their Immediate Execution, as the only way effectually to stop the increasing spirit of desertion4—whilst these Men were under sentence of death, a party returned from the German flatts, who been on Command to drive Cattle to this Garrison, they had lost Six Men by desertion, who were pursued, but without effect—this together with the above Reasons & being apprehensive of some design of the Enemy, & a Report that they had carefully spread among the Savages of having upwards of seventy Men enlisted in this Garrison, who woul’d rise upon their appearance—Convinced me of the Necessity of a Rigid Example, & resolved me to take the advice of my Officers, by Ordering the prisoners to be Executed, & they were accordingly shott at the Head of the Regiment on the 17th—In doing of which altho, I coul’d not find the Articles of warr gave me the fullest Authority yet as Commanding Officer of a frontier Post, & far distant from the Commander in Chief, & having a seperate Commission from Congress as Commandant of this Post, I concieved, myself fully impowered, in a Case of such great Necessity5 unprecedented to me—I hope Your Excellency will be convinced of the Necessity, & approve of the Justness of the Execution—Inclosed your Excellency has a Copy of the Proceedings of the Court Martial.6

ADf, NN: Gansevoort-Lansing Collection.

1The date and location are taken from the docket on the draft.

2Gansevoort was referring to the case of Samuel Gake, for which, see GW to Gansevoort, 13 Aug., and note 1 to that document. Gake’s court-martial referred to “Lord Rodnam,” evidently a reference to Francis Rawdon (later Rawdon-Hastings; 1754–1826). Lord Rawdon had come to America in 1774 as a lieutenant in the 5th Regiment of Foot and had risen to captain of the 63d Regiment by January 1778, when he was appointed a supernumerary aide-de-camp to then Maj. Gen. Henry Clinton. By May of 1778 Rawdon was recruiting “All Gentlemen, Natives of Ireland, who are zealous for the Honour and Prosperity of their Country” to form a Loyalist regiment to be called the Volunteers of Ireland, and Clinton again appointed Rawdon as an aide-de-camp in his general orders of 30 May 1778 (Royal Gazette [New York], 9 May 1778; Kemble Papers description begins [Stephen Kemble]. The Kemble Papers. 2 vols. New York, 1884-85. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 16–17. description ends , 1:586–87). Rawdon was appointed adjutant general with the rank of lieutenant colonel in June 1778 but resigned that post in September 1779. In the spring of 1780 Rawdon was posted to the southern theater, where he took part in the capture of Charleston and the Carolina campaigns, before leaving America in July 1781. Subsequently Rawdon rose to the rank of general in the British army, and as Lord Moira, he served as governor-general and commander in chief in India, 1813–21, and at Malta, 1824–26.

3Gansevoort wrote “that.”

4A petition to this effect, dated 15 Aug. and signed by twenty officers of the 3d New York Regiment, is in NN: Gansevoort-Lansing Collection.

5The words from “Congress” to this point were written at the end of the text and marked for insertion at this point.

6A copy of the court-martial proceedings of 15 Aug. is in NN: Gansevoort-Lansing Collection.

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